Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Classical music may be the central draw for Yaron Zilberman’s A Late Quartet, but it’s the drama between the film’s musicians that makes the work a rousing success. In examining a few turbulent weeks of the world-renowned Fugue String Quartet, the triumphs and struggles unique to that profession are vividly brought to life. Though the rivalries and loyalties that play out are inherent of such a dedicated artistic lifestyle, the core of each conflict is universal. With such a powerful human foundation, the music is but icing on their storied relationships, though what impressive icing it is.
Primed for their 25th season together, the Fugue Quartet is rocked by the news that cellist Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken) is showing early signs of Parkinson’s disease. Deciding to retire rather than hamper the Quartet with his failing dexterity, Peter’s pending vacancy holds different meaning for the rest of the ensemble. Second violinist Robert Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sees an opportunity to shake things up and alternate lead parts with first chair Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir), who prefers the current arrangement. The idea does not go over well with his wife Juliette (Catherine Keener), whose doubts drive Robert to actions that threaten to destroy the Quartet for good.
With a revered cast on board, it’s only fitting that the writing match their talent. Zilberman’s and Seth Grossman’s script richly conveys the nuances of a tight-knit group with a quarter century of shared experience. Set against crisp, thoughtful shots of snow-covered New York, the foursome bring their “A” games and generate enough dramatic heat to combat the cold winter.
The Gelbart’s suddenly at-risk marriage is the main attraction, but just as impressive is Daniel’s complex tutoring of their daughter Alexandra (the lovely Imogene Poots), herself a promising violinist. Keeping them together as best he can is Peter, played with notable grace by Walken. Adapting to the life that awaits him outside of performing while still accepting his wife’s recent death, the predicament quietly takes its toll on Peter and it’s a pleasure to watch Walken persevere.
As these well-conceived scenarios play out, they’re interspersed with speeches that try hard to relate music to the human condition. Though a bit heavy-handed, there’s still a sense of beauty to these notions, especially coming from such finely constructed characters. For better or worse, the musical profession rules their lives, and how each member of the Quartet responds to the complications of this existence, both as an individual and part of the ensemble, makes for a fascinating journey. That there’s Beethoven’s magnificent Opus 131 to boot is a bonus of nearly unfair proportions.
Rated R for language and some sexuality.
A Late Quartet is currently playing at the Fine Arts Theatre on Biltmore Ave.
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